This afternoon, I sat myself down to watch the Reading vs Man Utd game hoping to see a relaxing three points to extend United’s lead at the top of the Barclay’s Premier League. I was totally unprepared for what unfolded as seven goals were scored in the first 35 minutes, and as hard as United tried, they couldn’t seem to give the game away and ended up eventual winners at 4-3. What started the season off as an anomaly is now a repetitive occurrence as manager Sir Alex Ferguson described their defending today as “a cartoon cavalcade”. So, what is wrong at the back?
In my view, this all began before the start of last season following the retirement of the legendary Edwin Van Der Saar as United’s first choice goalkeeper. Ranked only behind Peter Schmeichel in the pecking order of “Great Goalkeepers” at Old Trafford, he was always going to be hard to replace. Not necessarily known for his judgement in finding top goalies (who will ever forget Massimo Taibi, Mark Bosnich and Fabien Barthez?), Sir Alex Ferguson signed David DeGea, a 20yr old Spanish goalkeeper from Athletico Madrid. A relative rookie of only 50-some starts for the Spanish club, DeGea was highly regarded by many but seen as a work in progress. As a back-up to DeGea, United had also signed a 28yr old Dane from Norwegian club Aalesunds, Anders Lindergaard, who in seven years in the minor European Leagues of Denmark and Norway, had played an average of just over 10 games per season.
I first saw DeGea in Chicago on the 2011 Summer Tour of the US and while looking the part in training, his demeanor on the field looked shaky and insecure. His slight physical frame did not bode well either for what would be a grueling debut in England for any young goalkeeper. His troubles began early with a softly conceded goal in the Community Shield against Man City, and things went from bad to worse. Ferguson then, in my view, committed the highest of all crimes by attempting to “platoon” DeGea and Lindergaard in an attempt to provide some stability between the posts. My own son, Adam, played goalkeeper to a relatively high level, and he always used to say, “pick one goalkeeper and stick with him”, but Ferguson never seemed to decide on a #1. As the season progressed, there was a slight improvement but it was all “seat of the pants” stuff. Neither one of these keepers could be considered “solid” nor do they inspire confidence which in itself, creates uncertainty in defenders.. DeGea is more of a shot stopper but is woefully weak on crosses whilst Lindergaard is more consistent but less dynamic.
This season, it seems like we’re back to square one again, with Lindegaard now taking over in Premier League games, and DeGea playing in Cup and Champions League matches. Meanwhile, Man Utd’s defensive woes have mushroomed, culminating in a horrendous performance at Reading today, with two goals being conceded from fairly routine set pieces. All season long, United have been conceding early goals, and as yet, have always managed to claw their way back, but next weekend, it’s the Manchester Derby against Man City at The Etihad Stadium and I will guarantee this. If United defend like they did today, they will lose and by a significant margin. Today, Sir Alex Ferguson, in an attempt to stem the tide, substituted out left back Raphael da Silva after only 35mins of the first half, something which I’ve never seen him do ever before at that stage in a game. The situation had become like a “Keystone Kops” episode.
The solution for me is to grab a veteran goalkeeper in the January transfer window and there are two available, both of whom would add some stability to the back-line. One is Brad Friedel from Tottenham, and the other is Shay Given from Aston Villa. Both goalkeepers are currently on the bench for Premier League games and have a wealth of top class experience between them. My preference would be Brad Friedel who I would make as my #1 and have DeGea sit on the bench and learn from the big American. I suggested last season that DeGea should have gone out on loan to learn his trade before dumping the kid into the “cauldron of fire”. Friedel would command respect from the United defenders and add a huge measure of calm to a frantically panicked defensive group.